Te Atatu South, Auckland, New Zealand
On David Cobb’s Marching with Tulips
Marching with Tulips by David Cobb. Uxbridge, UK: Alba Publishing, 2013. Pb. 76 pp. ISBN 978-0-9575265-0-1. UK£10.00 / US$15.00 / €12.
Marching with Tulips by David Cobb contains 43 haibun, inset with 150 haiku and it is a wonderful addition to Cobb’s publications. Several of the haibun have appeared previously in magazines, on websites and in smaller collections. The collection is published with a companion title, What Happens in Haibun, which takes the same haibun and subjects them to critical scrutiny by their author.
Understanding haibun simply as a piece of prose studded with haiku implies a disconnection and certain passivity between poet and reader; the haibun’s role is limited to the single sense—sight. Is this really what haibun means to us? Might the haibun that are important to us be those with which we personally interact—those that are bound up in our personal and collective identities? To bring this closer to home imagine you are the child in the first haibun, “Pat and Death.” How does this poem relate to your own childhood and the way you were raised? I believe that the interaction between people and the poems they read are fundamental to our individual growth and awareness.
Marching with Tulips aspires to be something different in the development of haibun: a literary form melding prose with haiku and featuring visually appealing landscapes, dialogue, diary, travelogue or fairy tale. We explore the richness and quality of Cobb’s poems by engaging in them and the ways in which our interactions imbue our everyday experiences with meaning and significance.
Cobb writes from an intelligent, fierce, vulnerable place where he searches for whatever truths he can find. This search ranges from childhood to withdrawal from one’s home. The progression of the subject matter is mirrored in the way Cobb arranges the haibun. Cobb’s insights are as innovative as his use of language. Maybe the experiences he writes about demanded a flexible language because many of the haibun consider the composition of identity, and instead of being fixed and certain, they find shifting ground. In “Holiday Affairs,” he describes his holiday room in short, sharp sentences:
Room is very white in every part. Perfectly proportioned. Breathes conditioned air.
I am a torso braised too much sun. Torpid. Buttered with lotion.
And the lengthy haibun “To the Theatre” ends with the following similar brief sentences and a perfect final haiku:
Banana Fingers. Preferred using those outsize digits to the proctorscope. I notice he hides them behind his back.
‘Is he nauseating?’ Yannis to the Sister. Shakes her head. ‘Are you nauseating?’ Siding with the Sister seems the safer thing to do.
On the third day I rise and take a taxi home.
the lacewing loves sunlight
just as much
As an example of place-based haibun, the passage below, from “At a Cemetery on Epiphany Way,” speaks of the visit to the grave of an old compatriot; moving inwards and outwards like a lens, the cemetery is also projected given the status of sentience, “Monuments all face inwards along the gravel path . . .” Cobb immediately sets the scene in these words:
In Berlin on a late summer’s day the Epiphanienweg leads to a cemetery called Luisenfriedhof. I am on my way to see you, Corporal Gabler. My second visit. After fifty years.
The haibun is a wonderful extended poetic achievement that brilliantly interweaves the personal, the divine, the past and present.
The drive of the narrative in this haibun carries one at speed through the vistas Cobb creates, the prose is certain and strong, it stands in counterbalance to the haiku, and one goes all the way with him because he is such an assured and confident writer.
There are many haibun in the book that I really enjoyed. Cobb comes into his own in the more personal haibun, where there’s room for ellipsis and often humour. His strengths lie in his wit and an imagination that opens up new worlds, in pacing that works so well that the rhythms he achieves are extraordinary. The mix of the recognizable and the different overarches the collection, and is used, from the outset, to embrace the unique pull and push that life has for the poet. In “Baggage,” for example, the narrator tells us about the journey of
A young man, not many months short of 22, struggles ten yards at a time towards an ocean liner. In one hand he humps a full size typewriter, in the other a gramophone. A field pack and a kit bag complete the load. Lowers everything onto the quayside for a short breather and reflects on the journey so far . . .
a small crescent moon
snipped out of ‘Gaza’
In the 12-page “Mint Tea with Moses,” Cobb creates another narrative, this time an extended piece of prose that takes the reader on a journey to “See the Promised Land.” There are these lovely lines:
Next day to Kerak. 15 miles. The name from crac, a citadel built by the Crusaders. Lodgings for the night beetled over by ramparts of the Crac des Moabites, also the fierce shadow of a stone Saladin on his steed. His raised scimitar threatening telephone calls with severed voices.
My favourite haibun are those that tell me everything but leave me wondering, slightly lost, bemused and searching for something long after the book is closed. This includes Cobb’s sensitive haibun “A Two-named River” that uses history to say quite a lot in a few words:
A small Essex river runs for fifteen miles out of the Gog Magog Hills. Squirming like an elver, often half-hidden by bulrushes and teasels, it bears the name Pant, a Celtic word that means ‘boggy hollow.’
There is a good deal to ponder and reflect on in these haibun, and the book repays the time spent in reading and rereading. There is considerable variety, enough to appeal to different tastes.